Holidays, especially those accompanied by a significant number of days off from school, are excellent opportunities to recommend family time activities for in and out of the library. Along with passive “programs” and early literacy toys for families to enjoy in the library, I recently pulled out books for a display which are great for sharing at bedtime, in the car, and any old time. I added to the display a sign with some of my favorite apps that are fun for the whole family and by design, encourage joint media engagement and coplay. Here are the apps I included in the Family Play Recommendations, many of which have been featured on our mounted iPad.
Sesame Street Family Play
This is an app that sparks ideas for off-screen play. Even the most savvy parents and caregivers run out of ideas, especially in stressful situations when families are logging time in crowded doctors’ offices, at airports during flight delays, and inside during harsh weather. This app provides more than 150 ideas based on where the family is playing and how many will join in the fun. The familiar Sesame Street characters will appeal to both kids and adults who are fans of Sesame Street. The app is research-based and boost learning skills while promoting fun, family play. For librarians and teachers this app could be introduced to families during a program by letting children help choose an activity and then playing the game as a group. it might be used similar to a song cube.
Toca Hair Salon Me
This app is one of my favorite Toca Boca apps because of its broad age appeal. The idea is to cut, wash, color and style hair with multiple tools in this open-ended play app. The app uses a photo from the device and then with a few adjustments the image is ready to makeover. There are no gender preconceptions and the styling possibilities are only inhibited by imagination. The concept and the design invite onlookers to become participants and the repeat usage is high. I prefer this app over the other fun Toca Hair Salon apps, although they are also noteworthy, because of the ability to upload a photo instead of using the provided images and characters. There is just something disarming about seeing an adult’s goofy selfie being altered by a group of kids. I’ve used this with young children, tweens, and grandparents as a party game and program icebreaker. A quick introduction gets the group off and running quickly. Photos of the final product can be saved to the device.
Grandma’s Great Gourd
Grandma’s Great Gourd is a trickster tale, story app based on the award-winning picture book, Grandma and the Great Gourd by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Susy Pilgrim Waters. Reminiscent of classic stories like Little Riding Hood and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, this is the tale of a smart, adventurous grandmother off to visit her daughter on the other side of the perilous jungle.
The entertaining story is enriched with subtle, story-relevant interactive elements, an original musical score, friendly, almost familiar, narration, and sound effects which all bring the humorous, Bengali folktale to life. For example, readers help decide in which order Grandma negotiates with the three beasts in the jungle; a black bear, tiger, and fox. The paper book’s textile-like illustrations are digitized and slightly animated in the app, accentuating the layered effect envisioned in the original book.
Families can enjoy the story together in read-to-me or read-on-my-own mode from start to finish or the back button (once in the story) can be used to select favorite pages. The home and settings button can be found on the navigation panel also. A sound studio offers readers the opportunity to record personalized narration, in a particular home language for example, and new sound effects to become part of the story. The app also includes a physics based game featuring Grandma and a flying gourd and a way to learn more about the Bengali region of South Asia, Grandma’s World, through in-app, informational videos. Topics include wildlife, clothing, food, art and language. (This information was also included in Beanstack’s collection of media reviews.) Check out the Grownup guide for extension activities!
Fairytale Play Theater
Do your kids like dramatic play? This open-ended app lets children create their own retellings of 6 fairytales (featured in Nosy Crow’s story apps). Storytellers can change characters, backgrounds, storylines, and props from a select menu (again all featured in Nosy Crow’s story apps). They can even record narration and action which they can playback for an audience. Characters lip-sync along with the custom narration. This creativity app would be a lovely tool to extend book readings of fairytales to help kids learn the fundamentals of storytelling or a new way for families to create their own stories together and then present the final product as a show on a large monitor. The app is well-suited for multiple players either at home or in a classroom/library setting. The app is available in two versions- ‘standard’ with In-App Purchases and ‘complete’ with all of the available stories. If you want to try out the app before committing, go ahead with the standard version, but the complete version offers kids more flexibility.
Ages: 4-8 (Young children will experience a learn curve and may need initial help navigating the in’s and out’s of the app.)
Me is a playful, digital storytelling tool in which kids and their families design personalized avatars and then create self-portraits, of sorts, using the app’s prompts and the digital device’s microphone, keyboard, touchscreen, and camera. Multiple kids, or kids and adults, can each craft their own story with drawings, photos, and words. The prompts pop up on the screen like thought bubbles and a quick tap reveals a question or direction which encourages kids to share their likes, dislikes, and feelings. Kids document their world and answer the ultimate question, ‘who are you?’ Imagination is strongly encouraged so kids can easily create a story for a pet or imaginary friend. Unanswered prompts can be saved for later and more options will appear. All of the pieces of each creation are kept in one place – perfect for sharing with friends and family – but nothing is shared outside of the app. The prompts are silly, interesting, and even peculiar, but all are well-suited for the whole family. Me successfully uses fun activities and thoughtful technical design to help kids find their voice and share it with others. (This information was also included in a monthly article I write for the Homer News about early literacy and children’s media.)
Ages: 4+ (younger with help)
Miximal mimics what singing does for language development in a silly literacy app that invites families to mix animals and sounds. To play this flipbook-inspired app, families switch the three sections of a handcrafted animal illustration by swiping on the screen to the left or right until a picture of an animal is complete. Tapping on the arrow at the bottom switches the display to a screen listing the three syllables of the animal’s name- for example, ‘go-ril-la’. If the name and animal represent an actual animal, versus an imaginary one, then the illustration animates and the animal does a little dance. While the goal is to make a whole gorilla or penguin, for example, the fun is in finding out what a mixed up animal looks like. Try the app to see a ‘fla-qui-saur’! (Hint: flamingo-mosquito-dinosaur.) The app supports five languages. (This information was also included in a monthly article I previously wrote for the Homer Tribune about early literacy and children’s media.)
Dipdap Winter is one of two drawing apps by this developer that lets kids contribute to short video stories. I like to share this one at my library because it’s very relevant to the local experience. Snow is covering the ground and kids will be familiar with the activities. For kids in other regions this might be a nice intro to life in colder climates.
The app’s idea is basic, but offers lots of opportunity for conversation. Kids draw a missing element to complete one of multiple short stories featuring the character Dipdap. Kids are given a prompt and pulsating dotted lines to follow if they choose. Creating the missing elements supports early writing practice whatever they ultimately draw for the missing element is acknowledged and used in the story- very rewarding for young children just beginning to write and draw. In the creation mode, kids watch the complete story first to give them context for their drawing and then they get to work. In play mode, they watch the short video story without adding their own drawings. It is easy to move back and forth. The stories are winter related and feature everything from snow play and baking activities to waking a bear from hibernation.